Back to iron ore smelting as Rwanda marks museum day

ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATIONS have revealed evidence of Rwanda’s rich ancient cultural history. This is from hunters and gathers in the late Stone Age and settlers producing dimpled pottery and iron tools during the Iron Age.
Iron smelting. (Courtesy)
Iron smelting. (Courtesy)

ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATIONS have revealed evidence of Rwanda’s rich ancient cultural history. This is from hunters and gathers in the late Stone Age and settlers producing dimpled pottery and iron tools during the Iron Age.

Through human history, cultures were characterised by curved tools associated with fossils. For centuries, iron ore has been extracted in many places in Rwanda and smelted using different types of furnaces.

The Stone Age is the period when people used lithic tools before knowledge of iron. Its technology is illustrated by stone tools such as hand axes, picks, and blades The Iron Age is a period during which local populations produced and used iron tools. 

A wide range of items, characteristic of Iron Age communities, will be on exhibition starting on May 20 to September 30, according to André Ntagwabira, Museums’ Archeologist based in Huye. The items include traditional hoes, spears and hammers/anvils.

This will follow iron smelting show (Guteka Ubutare) that will take place today May 18 on International Museums Day.

Guteka Ubutare makes history come alive for the public by engaging them in the discovery of historical, cultural, and social experiences of the past. 

In recent years, International Museum Day has been experiencing its highest evolution with about 30,000 museums organising activities in more than 120 countries. This celebration has been held annually since 1977 as one of the ways of raising awareness on the importance of museums are in the development of society. 

The International Council of Museums’ vision is a world in which the importance of natural and cultural heritage is universally recognised. The International Museum Day therefore contributes to this commitment by rallying the museum community for a common cause.

This year’s theme is, “Museum Collections Make Connections.”

This is a day that gives museum professionals opportunity to connect with their audience as agents for social change and development. Museum exhibitions, world over, have the ability not only to tell a story, but also engage with the community through a shared memory. 

There is therefore need to reach families that are not museum-goers by creating a festive and friendly atmosphere that enables all participants to feel comfortable and happy to return.

In Rwanda, the Institute of National Museums (INMR) is organising Guteka Ubutare to showcase technological evolution in the pre-colonial Rwanda from foragers to iron smelters. This is dedicated to Rwanda’s historical, cultural and natural heritage to mark the International Museum Day at the ethnographic museum in Huye-Butare.

As Rwanda joins the international community of museums to celebrate the International Museum Day, the three-month exhibition on technological evolution with many objects and photos illustrating the technologies of two archaeologically recognized pre-colonial periods will be exhibited. These are Stone Age and Iron Age. 

This is an opportunity for the public to know how smelters managed to transform natural objects (iron ore) into cultural artifacts (iron tools). Many might want to understand why this technology was made obsolete by the widespread availability of scrap iron. 

For those who will miss the exhibition, a documentary film on iron smelting activities will be displayed throughout the exhibition period and copies will be on sale.

INMR exhibitions do not only teach Rwandans about tales of our past, but are vital in creating a generation of young people who can apply these lessons to the future through topical and challenging exhibits. 

The institutions basic tenets are dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge and more particularly to promote the understanding of contemporary grass root cultures.

INMR seeks to conserve so as to preserve a feeling of a shared cultural and collective identity through hands-on experiences, presentations and exhibitions that will enable today’s generation become better able to inform the present and shape the future. 

This particular exhibition is significant because it goes an extra- mile to cover a wider perspective of the public’s social, political, historical and cultural trends about the past to disseminate factual evidence about the past.

This will open up space about meanings and values of archaeological resources as a study of human activity in the past. It is through such innovations that we shall recognise possibilities that before had no meanings for us if we are to stir up a knowledge-based economy. This brings in a closer interaction of the public and their environments.

Giving our culture due recognition is a great service to our heritage. Let history be in our hands.

The author is cultural heritage analyst

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